Employees are dressing more professionally these days, and it’s just in the nick of time in view of the lagging economy. According to a report of the Society of Human Resource Management, the number of companies allowing casual attire is declining. In 1998, the number of companies in the States allowing casual attire in the office reached an all time high of 97 percent. That number has continued to decrease steadily each year. The reason? Employees who arrive at the office looking as if they are prepared for a day of chores. Other studies have reported that employees show up dressed in club attire. Neither approach is likely to give employees the advantage in a competitive environment.
The U.K. may be ahead of us. A large firm with offices throughout the U.K. surveyed 407 administrative professionals and found that only 35.6 percent of respondents work for companies that still have a designated casual day. This study noted that women believe that professional attire on the job helps them command more respect, and that sloppily-dressed women are perceived as also doing sloppy work. As with other studies, males liked the relaxed dress codes more than females, but they still consider a professional demeanor to be reflected only in proper attire.
If you’re a manager and perfectly happy with casual attire being permitted for you and your staff, you may wish to take note of yet another study; this one done by employment law firm Jackson Lewis. The law firm found that 44 percent of the HR executives polled noticed more tardiness and absenteeism after implementing a casual dress policy. They also reported a rise in flirtatious behavior. It seems the disadvantages far outweigh the advantages - for employers. The problem is, employees view casual attire as an asset, and their managers don’t want to rock the boat and take their “perk” away.
What’s a company to do? Some companies implement a dress code to define business casual attire. The problem with this approach is that business casual can’t be defined, because it’s truly an oxymoron. Business attire and casual attire are at opposite ends of the spectrum. Most companies going the dress-code route outlaw jeans and flip flops, but permit khakis and polo shirts for men. Capri pants and sundresses are given the okay for women.
Sadly, khakis and polos are about the most unflattering garments a man could wear, because they make him look slouchy and heavier in the buttocks. Only a very tall and slim woman looks better in Capris than regular pants, since they make everyone look broader in the beam and stunted in the legs. Dress codes may be a good start, but they do very little to get people to give up casual attire.
What’s needed is education. Once employees discover the many advantages of professional attire, they are willing to make gradual changes with their dress habits. Soon they discover that they get more respect, more business and more promotions when they dress professionally. Sherry Maysonave, author of “Casual Power,” reports “People think you’re smarter when you’re well dressed, and they think you come from a high socioeconomic class.”
A group of men’s clothing retailers recently started a movement called Dress Up Thursday, with the mission “to assist corporate America in re-conceptualizing the importance of appropriate business attire in the workplace.” There isn’t a better way to get employees to discover what it feels like to be accorded immediate credibility and respect.
Let’s take back our American pride and adopt Fashion Friday in this country – where everyone dresses up on Friday instead of dressing down. After all, lots of office workers head for their local “town center” to meet friends for a drink or a bite to eat after work on Fridays to start celebrating the weekend. Why not look your best? You never know who you might run into? That client you’ve wanted to impress, or that special someone you’ve been hoping to meet.
What are you waiting for? Get the ball rolling - dust off your suit and be a source of inspiration to others. They’ll thank you for it when they discover the many benefits of dressing to impress!
Sandy Dumont is an internationally-renowned image consultant who has presented workshops on three continents. She has produced several books, DVDs and boxed sets on the subject of professional image. More info at: www.theimagearchitect.com.